British Teen Book Prize

Bookheads has the shortlist for the Booktrust Teenage Prize:
* Siobhan Dowd – A Swift Pure Cry
* Ally Kennen – Beast
* Paul Magrs – Exchange
* Anthony McGowan – Henry Tumour
* Marcus Sedgwick – The Foreshadowing
* John Singleton – Angel Blood
And I haven’t read a single one of them! They have an author, school student, school librarian, two journalists and four teen judges on their panel. The winner will be announced in November.

The Queen's Feet

The Queen’s Feet by Sarah Ellis, illustrated by Dusan Petricic.

This jaunty picture book features a queen who has uncontrollable feet, especially when she has to dress them up in formal clothes.  Instead of behaving in a royal way, her feet act out kicking other people, doing the splits, and behaving generally badly.  It gets to bad that a council is called and the queen is forced to find a way to control the behavior of her naughty feet.  A compromise is reached where the queen rules most of the time, but her feet rule for one hour out of each day where they can run, kick and be rude.

This is a perfect picture book for wiggly children who can’t control their body parts.  They will laugh at the many things that the queen’s feet do as well.  It is a gentle entry into a discussion of controlling yourself in a class or storytime.  Share this with wiggly preschoolers and kindergarteners who are just learning about sitting still for any length of time. 

Winter Is the Warmest Season

Winter Is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer.

This picture book is a tribute to the warmth of winter found in long scarves, fuzzy mittens and warm hats.  It is the warmth of fireplaces, hot drinks, and cozy blankets.  It is the warmth that those of us who live in the north completely understand.  The joys of radiators and heating vents, hot steamy baths, and family.  And it is all the more special juxtaposed against the cold outdoors, the whiteness of the snow and the crispness of the air.  The illustrations capture this contrast beautifully, with many of the orangey glowing pictures surrounded by frames of puffy cool-colored snow. 

Nicely Christmas and holidays are left out because there is enough warmth to go around without them.  This means that it is a book all about winter without a Christmas tree, so that it can be used in diverse communities without offense.  This book has a warmth of its own and should be considered another joy of the chilly season.  Share it with children from toddlers to preschoolers.  I can see it leading to discussions of what makes their own winters warm and special, perhaps an art project using warm and cool colors. 

Give Them a Good Pop

The Book Standard has an interesting article: Jessa Crispin Pops A Question To Borders. In it Crispin, author of the great Bookslut blog talks about Borders’ choice to not carry Pop, a teen novel by Aury Wallington. They will special order it by request but will not have it on their store shelves. Why? Sex, sex, sex. I guess in this case, sex does not sell?
In the article, the Borders spokesperson pulls out the old no room on the shelves comment. Sigh. Don’t they know that librarians have long perfected excuses about why they don’t carry certain materials. Shelf space is so old hat. Instead try, “The binding is not high enough quality” (used by many libraries when talking about Madonna’s Sex book) or “It would just get stolen anyway.” (used when talking about any book with “sex” in the title and in conjunction with the previous example when talking about Madonna’s book.)
Lame excuse, Borders, especially when your competition has found room on their shelves for it. One would think that a national bookseller would have more courage than this.

The Gingerbread Girl

The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst.

A new take on the Gingerbread Boy, this picturebook features his younger sister.  A year has passed since the elderly couple created the Gingerbread Boy and they decide to try once again, filling this little Gingerbread Girl with candy.  While she is baking in the oven, the couple talk about the many mistakes the Gingerbread Boy made, especially by running away.  But once they peek in the door at the girl, she is up and running too, setting off to prove that she is much smarter than her older brother.  The story follows the same path as the traditional one as the Gingerbread Girl runs past animals, people, and more until reaching the river and the fox.  But this one ends very differently much to the pure joy of children listening. 

I enjoyed Ernst’s ability to mirror the traditional but bring in modern touches and a new run-away rhyme.  I also enjoyed her unmistakable art with the sweet-covered gingerbread, the surprised humans, and the many animals.  Read this book to a class after reading the traditional version.  Preschoolers and kindergarteners alike will enjoy the revenge the Gingerbread Girl takes as well as the happy ending.

Incantation

Incantation by Alice Hoffman.

This is the remarkable book that tells the story of Estrella, a teenage girl growing up in Spain around 1500.  She slowly realizes as the book progresses that she is somehow different than the others in her village, despite the fact that her family has lived there for 500 years.  As the details are slowly exposed, Estrella learns that her family are actually Marranos, Jews who live in secrecy because of all of the hatred and exclusion of Jews in the society.  Estrella also learns through the course of the book that she is more powerful and intelligent than she had ever realized.  When her best friend grows jealous because her cousin is courting Estrella, she does the unthinkable and turns in Estrella’s grandfather as a magician and heretic.  Estrella realizes at that point that there is a monster of hatred that all people must battle within themselves and that sometimes the monster is strong enough to overtake an entire society.

Hoffman’s language is pure poetry.  This slim volume is easily consumed, but you will find yourself stopping time and again simply to reread her words that breathe a detailed life into Estrella and her surroundings.  There is a beauty here that adds to the pain and the horror.  It is masterfully done, a book of poetry without verses.   The characterization is wonderful with the adults around Estrella become more and more human as their secrets are revealed. 

But I must comment more on the writing itself.  Here is a paragraph from the first page which made me know immediately that this was a book I was going to love.

“I have crossed over to a place where I never thought I’d be.  I am someone I would have never imagined.  A secret.  A dream.  I am this, body and soul.  Burn me.  Drown me.  Tell me lies.  I will still be who I am.” 

It is writing like this, characters like these, that make writing for teens so expansive and amazing.  Occasionally I think about reading more books for adults and leaving behind books for teens, but then I find a gem like this one, a book that will stay with me for years, that I will recommend to others whether they read books for teens or not.  It is pure, graceful poetry.

Fergus and the Night-Demon



Fergus and the Night-Demon: an Irish Ghost Story
by Jim Murphy, illustrated by John Manders.

Fergus is a lazy boy who will not help his mother at home.  On his way to a night of fun in Skibbereen, he meets the Night Demon, a creature that has glowing red eyes and grows bigger and bigger the more that Fergus tries to avoid him.  But the Night Demon cannot be avoided and Fergus must eventually admit that only hard work will get him out of the predicament. 

Murphy’s writing is nicely nuanced to bring out your Irish brogue if you have one and to allow those readers who don’t want to through themselves all the way into an accent to read it straight.  Combined with Manders’ illustrations that really bring the Night Demon to life, this book is a lot of fun.  It is filled with the exact right amount of shivers and scary moments to share with kindergarteners and early elementary school students.   This one is perfect for either Halloween storytimes or St. Patrick’s Day because of the Irish connection. 

Library Goddesses

Library Goddesses is a fairly new group of blogs that any librarian (retired or currently working) is welcome to join. They have a blog for picture books, one for fiction for ages 5-8, fiction ages 9-12 and nonfiction. You can subscribe to just the blog you are interested in and it can be by email or RSS feed. Very nice.
This is a great opportunity to review books that interest you without having to maintain your own one-person blog. A nice entry-way into the world of library blogging.

Holiday Books

ALA has a nice article with recommended holiday titles: Children’s librarians recommend books for the holidays. It offers a gift-giving guide for children from preschool to 8th grade with picture books, fiction and nonfiction. Best of all, it is not overpowered by Christmas books, but offers a wider range of holidays.